ASBURY PARK — More than 50 years after a landmark court victory made gay bars legal in New Jersey, the state’s top law enforcement official will offer a formal apology for decades of strife against such establishments.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Tuesday evening will appear at the former Asbury Park site of the Paddock Bar at Cookman Avenue and Main Street , which was subject to three different enforcement actions by state officials between 1957 and 1960.
The venue was among more than 100 bars across three dozen municipalities that were systematically targeted by police, fined and periodically shut down between the end of prohibition until the 1967 state Supreme Court decision that recognized such actions against bars with LGBTQ patrons as discriminatory.
As part of the long-delayed legal amends, Grewal issued a directive ordering the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to vacate 126 enforcement actions that suspended or revoked the licenses of liquor establishments during that era because they served LGBTQ+ patrons — including 21 bars in Newark, 16 establishments in Atlantic City and 14 venues in Paterson.
Those crackdowns were based on two state regulations issued shortly after the end of Prohibition.
One prohibited licensed liquor establishments from allowing “female impersonators” (among others) on their premises, while the other prohibited licensees from operating their business “in such a manner as to become a nuisance.”
Until 1967, the term “nuisance” included allowing the “congregation of apparent homosexuals” at an establishment.
"There is no way of determining how much the five Attorneys General who oversaw ABC prior to 1967 knew about the agency’s harassment of LGBTQ+ New Jerseyans. But there is reason to think that they knew what was going on," according to the directive issued by Grewal on Tuesday, which he said was an effort for the office to reckon "with this ugly moment in its history."
“This unprecedented action by Attorney General Grewal represents a profound and meaningful acknowledgment of the unfair discriminatory treatment visited upon the LGBTQ community in the past by state law enforcement officials,” Thomas Prol, a founding and current Executive Committee member of Garden State Equality and past president of the New Jersey Bar Association said in a written release.
Prol was slated to attend Tuesday’s event, as were ABC Director James Graziano and Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino.
Carole Torre, the former owner of a LGBTQ bar in Asbury Park in the 1970s, also would be on hand as Grewal took on the historical actions of his office, which he called “revolting” in speaking with the New York Times.
Grewal and Graziano announced that the ABC would further review the agency’s historical practices to determine whether any other communities were subject to discriminatory enforcement actions.
“The Attorney General’s Office is charged with furthering justice in New Jersey, and yet for more than three decades, our office fell far short,” Grewal said in a written statement.
“The time has come to acknowledge this failing, to apologize for what happened, and to make sure it never occurs again. We are committed to righting this historical wrong and strengthening our relationship with New Jersey’s LGBTQ+ community," he continued.